We the ‘Booked’ 📖

Before any other thing, let me explain the ‘we’ in the title. It is people born in the 60s, a little earlier, or possibly mid 70s. A generation which (in India) did not have access to television and the internet. A generation which could not tuck itself into bed without a book – many often hoodwinked parents by hiding Archie comics between text book pages. Later the comics occasionally made way for Hugh Hefners’ Playboy and his centrefold bunnies. We were boys tasting the first bittersweet joys of adulthood. ‘We’ lived through exciting times – times of want and longing, an era which despite some harmless amorous pursuits, was defined by innocence and naivete. As Charles Dickens wrote, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…

I am not sure if youngsters still do these things…books were central to our existence. A close modern day analogy would be the cell phone or the laptop, without which it is today difficult to imagine a youngster for any significant length of time. We read till we were almost dead…Enid Blyton and her Famous Five, Secret Seven and the ‘R’ ( Barney mysteries) series were indeed to die for. Characters like George (from Famous Five), the quintessential tomboy and Uncle Quentin, the stern & strict ‘grown up’ were part of our real world, rather than fantasy. We saw a little of Dick and Anne in all our friends and fancied ourselves as little heroes, destined to be saviours of humanity.

The Guns of Navarone and the unforgettable opening lines: “A small, dusty man, in a small dusty room….”, from The Dark Crusader brought the inimitable Mr Alistair McLean into our lives. Ms Enid was sadly being edged out, having initiated us to the joys of simple English writing and reading. From the innocent world of scones and muffins, it was to the sinister world of sabotage and subversion .To Ms Blyton however, must go the credit of making us lifelong prisoners of the written word.

James Hadley Chase with ominous titles like Believed Violent , The Vulture is a Patient Bird or Like a Hole in the Head, ran McLean close, despite his blockbusters like Where Eagles Dare, Puppet on a Chain and others. Chase seemed to have his nose ahead, with those few suggestive, titillating accounts of amour, stopping just short of the roll, thrown in. Despite possibly higher literary and storytelling value, I think McLean lost out to Chase… voyeurism has always had its uses.

The peerless Erle Stanley Gardner and his unforgettable creation, Perry Mason, the indefatigable, genial lawyer brought the American judicial system with all its faults, foibles and fantasies into our vistas. His alliterative titles like The Case of the Horrified Heirs, The Case of the Vagabond Virgin and so many such, had us rushing to the local book lender (yes, these worthies, masquerading as librarians, actually existed – a testimony to the prevalence of the reading bug then) with 25 paisa in change to get the latest Perry Mason. We fought over these books, we swore by Mason and we hated DAs…those wily shysters with pointed noses in pin striped suits, often with a pince nez, out to convict innocents, who our hero defended through excellent briefs prepared with the help of Della Street, his suave and smart secretary. She was as close as you could get to a computer those days. Sadly, Perry and Della were never romantically involved – if they were, Mr Gardener surely kept us guessing!

The advent of books and authors in our lives was not necessarily sequential…rather it was concurrent, or even random. I do not exactly recall when Harold Robbins made an entry. I do remember however, that it was with a bang. A Stone for Danny Fisher took our small literary world by storm. The struggles, successes and eventual doom of a young Jewish street fighter, Danny Fisher, cast a spell, traces of which still hang in the air. That fictional character, not the ideal Momma’s boy you bring home, has been an evergreen hero – perhaps a sign of the times we grew up in. The Carpetbaggers and it’s prequel, Nevada Smith, brought home Hollywood and its glitz – accompanied lamentably, as critics aver, with liberal doses of sex and gore. As I said, those were heady, tough days – you needed your Danny Fishers and Nevada Smiths, even as those were not, by ethical standards then prevalent, exemplary influences on young men. Discerning parents frowned – others were blissfully oblivious to the literary pursuits of their wards.

In between we made forays into the Wild West. ‘Sudden‘, that unforgettable character by Oliver Strange, so named due to the lightning speed with which he drew his revolvers, introduced the world of Red Indians, horses, squaws, posses, pistol duels and motels in dusty one-horse towns with creaky swing doors. It was toxic. Louis L’amour, the other author of ‘Westerns’ who broke into the scene, filled up any gaps that Mr Strange may have left. We were indeed spoilt for choice. Hollywood, New York, Arizona, values, ethics, courts, bars, sex, violence, sleaze, espionage and subterfuge vied for our fleeting attention spans – America in all its avatars, had found a niche in our minds.

And then came what I call the lord and master – PG Wodehouse. As has been famously said, there are two kinds of people in this world : those who have read PG Wodehouse and those who have not. To quote Hugh Laurie “…..PG Wodehouse is still the funniest writer ever to put words on paper…those who contest this must be irretrievably insane….”. Bertie Wooster, Jeeves, The Drones Club, The Empress of Blandigs, Aunt Agatha….the list of these unforgettable characters, places and stories that kept you enthralled, in awe and in splits, is a mile long. Only the Master could have woven them in the web of farce, burlesque and absurdity that he did and made language sound like music! I remain till date, amongst the most ardent Wodehouse fans and an eternal, diehard aspirant for Drones Club membership. As Bertie Wooster would say , “Not likely, ole chap……”

As I said, our reading graph was not linear…we read authors in no particular order – in the sequence we could lay our hands on the books in a time of scarcity. In between, some of us were privileged to read semi classics like Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. It was fun to be a Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler aficionado at a time when Ashley and Melanie were the flavour of the day. You could always impress the few girls that you spoke to in your late teens with misquotes from GWTW. At around the same time, one of the most intense characters, Atticus Finch, from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird made the profound impact that he does on all who have read this classic. These books literally had the power to shape character, and I would imagine they did.

In between, and as we savoured college life, our literary taste buds got more defined and varied. There were several authors who at various times and stages donned the tag of favourites – Irving Wallace, Ian Fleming, Arthur Hailey, Erich Segal, Robin Cook, Stephen King, AJ Cronin, Ayn Rand, Leon Uris, John Grisham….Then there were those few writers who could cast a spell with only one book of theirs that you could lay your hands on, like Marie Corelli (Vendetta), Colleen McCullough (The Thorn Birds), Alberto Moravia (The Woman of Rome), Daphne du Maurier (Rebecca) and a few others. Some of us flirted with DH Lawrence, he of the evergreen and titillating Lady Chatterley’s Lover fame – and (so we thought) were none the worse for wear for it, even as one had to read it clandestinely and drew severe rebuke from parents, extending to a full ban on reading, if ever found in possession of such ‘putrid’ literature! So, the reading career, such as it was, was chequered and many-faceted, if it was anything!

That’s the wrap folks. As ‘we’, well past our prime, enter the evening of our lives (some of you may vehemently contest that – God bless you), and even perhaps prepare for the hereafter, I would unhesitatingly draw on the Mary Hopkins song : “those were the days”. A touch of the maudlin there – advancing years do that to you! The reading habit, even as all that we read was not ideal or classic, stood us in good stead right through life – in the lessons imbibed, the language skills adapted, the broadening of our intellectual horizons and most importantly, facing up to the challenges life threw up with alarming regularity. The books we read helped establish a connect (Ms Blyton would frown at ‘connect’ being used as a noun – the perils of modern day usage, which has not left even us old timers untouched) with a world with which we had nothing in common. Yet there was alignment and association. Computers don’t do that. Those books gave us an education which I felt school only complemented.


Mushy as it appears, one would imagine that that generation faded away with the advent of technology, television and terabytes. Kids, young and old, do not read as much anymore – they only assimilate, I suspect, without imbibing. They are of course, a whole lot smarter. Laptops and cellphones have ushered in a million plusses, but in one fell swoop, put an end to the age of innocence and chastity. Ms Blyton, Mr Wodehouse and their ilk would however, remain indelibly and eternally etched on the collective psyches of that wonderful generation. We owe them our very childhood, some of our happiest times and so much more.

25 thoughts on “We the ‘Booked’ 📖

  1. And to add to the list, Nancy Drew, the ever romantic, Mills and Boons (I never read one!!) which left millions of girls dreaming of a TDH Boy Friend

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  2. Oh boy what ride, dripping in nostalgia!!
    Advantages of having kids late..reliving it through my kids..bedtime stories are the best way to reconnect.
    Thank you sir for the lovely trip back in time!

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  3. How smoothly the character building finds projection through this personal memoir on reading the world’s best writing pieces! Hats off to the writer for this meaningful narrative, that takes into account a long listicle of the best writing giants which in return not just impresses but also astonishes profusely. This appeal makes the entire blog an utmost honest one, well wrapped up with the teenage experiences of sweet and sour with occasional bites of tingling delicacies. This quality makes the blog much relevant in today’s social scenario where reading habit is being diminishing.

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  4. Great journey down the teenage memory lane.
    Few more great characters – Billy bunter, hercule Poirot , Biggles and an author of Maclean stature – Desmond Bagley !!!! Then those Commando comics and superman , batman and spiderman. All that is gone with our generation.
    There used to hindi spy fiction too. Colonel Ranjit. Om prakash Sharma. Ibne safi.

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    1. Absolutely agree. Definitely Desmond Bagley. There were Jack Higgins, Ken Follet, Frederick Forsyth…and several others who enthralled. Could not mention all. And of course Hercule Poirot and the unforgettable characters you mention. And yes, those comics… unforgettable.Tintin & Asterix too. Thanks a lot for your observations and comments

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  5. Ah! Brought back the best memories of childhood… Ms Blyton would perhaps be every 60s kid’s love!
    Alas, technology has affected us too; I read more online now, though am still a big fan of paperbacks. Kindle will perhaps never entice me!
    Wonder if our kids’ kids will ever read books? Technology has indeed destroyed a whole world where we lived in our book dreams!

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    1. Thank you very much for your very astute and pertinent comments sgmdilse. I am glad my little piece evoked nostalgia. If we can leave behind one enduring legacy for our children & theirs, it should be the reading habit.

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  6. It’s nostalgic to find a connection while reading the blog but at the same time as we finish reading it, the mere idea horrifies that the same connect may not be found by the youngsters of this generation anymore.I wish they understand the intended concern of the blog that technology can never replace the joy of reading a book that touches one’s hands, that is inhaled in the system as one sniffs through page by page so that one lives by those experiences for a long long time.

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  7. This is an eminent chronicle of ‘our’ times ‘then’!
    The young today are more visually inclined. They have grown up on a diet of instant gratification and regular doses of stimulus. It is, therefore difficult for them to hold an interest in books of the kind we have in our minds – their mindspace is very differently populated. By the time you’ve scrolled to the end of the screen on the Twitter site or Instagram, the page has refreshed with new notifications and enticements. This is far more exciting than a static page of text, one for which considerable effort has to be made.
    Arunima, who is just entering her teens has now taken a fancy for Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series. I bought all the fine books that I found recommended reading through reviews, etc but nothing appealed to her much. I am happy with this new found interest. Last week, she asked me to order a graphic novel of Hardy Boys (yes, there are now). It was delivered next day in the morning. In the evening she called me at the office and told me that it was hopeless. I was delighted at this admission. There is hope, I chuckled to myself !
    In the eighties, during my graduation and post-graduation, I discovered something else which gave me endless delightful hours of reading. It was the time when Indian writing in English came of age and there were many writers of Indian origin writing in English. This was a blessing. These were not the R K Narayan, R K Laxman, Naipaul, Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao type of stalwarts, but contemporary writers of fiction. They were Upamanyu Chatterjee (still serving the Maharashtra cadre of IAS), Amitav Ghosh, Rohinton Mistry, Salman Rushdie, Bharati Mukherjee, Khushwant Singh, Manju Kapoor, Vikram Seth, I Allan Sealy and their ilk. While I enjoyed the Chase and Harold Robbins’, I faced the onerous task of understanding the alien context, slang, and cultural settings – something I could never relate to.
    When I read Salman Rushdie, I instantly identified with the by-lanes of Bombay that he was talking about, since my BEST route took me through those. In The Shadow Lines, a very human story of love and loss, the story of partition came alive through the Bengali narrator. Similarly, the literary tour-de-force of The Trotter-Nama and the rambling A Suitable Boy, affected me. Many of these writers were abroad, but I identified with the India they talked of and the pain of stunted aspirations they portrayed. Not many were reading these, but that was all I read then and still have a penchant for.
    Yours is truly a chronicle of the times of our lives. Many thanks.

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    1. Thanks Sanjay. That is s wonderful comment which can go out as a blog itself!
      Yes you could always associate with Indian authors more. I did read a whole lot of Khushwant Singh, Vikram Seth and Rushdie. Sadly not the others so much. Entirely my loss.
      I guess the effect of convent education in a small town, not too long after the British had left, when emphasis was on English ‘as she is spoken & written in England’ did not leave our generation untouched and perhaps subconsciously drew us to European/American writers.
      But yes, Indian writers in English – and their tribe is growing – are a very special lot. They have done us proud.
      As for your observations on the young and their reading preferences (or lack of them), your analysis is spot on.
      I am sure Arunima is coming around – if only slowly.
      Thanks for your comments a thr aapreciation

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  8. Nice. Entertaining. Nostalgia-invoking. Those of us of a particular generation and disposition can relate to it instantly. Books did not help just help create and bond with friends, but also single out ‘our types’ from a crowd of strangers. Over the years, that spell has remained unbroken, as the article demonstrates.

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  9. What a trip down the memory lane!
    Isn’t is shocking to see that what we wish for the most is, in realty, forever lost and can never come back?
    This article probably made everyone yearn for the bygone years, reminisce about their simple beauty, let out a sigh and carry on.
    For the sake of ‘old times’ I have gone back and read some classics like Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier, also gifted it to a couple younger family members because I thought it was fantastic), Miracle (Irwing Wallace) and Godfather (Mario Puzo) and loved seeing the nuances from a different light. I noted with better clarity, character building and events defining it and the imagery. I could also fortify my opinion that the world lives in the 90% grey area between white and black (or true/false) as opposed to the 50-50 that I thought as a younger, naive, simpler person.

    On a lighter note, I would like to point out that when I re-read Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte), I questioned myself on how could I have been one of the many, many people to justify Heathcliff when he was actually such a jerk! 🙂

    Look forward to reading your blogs!

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    1. Thank you Soumya. Thats an incisive & nostalgia evoking comment in itself! Those of you who read – and you seem like one of them – have grown up into better,more evolved & understanding humans. Glad you passed on some stuff to the younger lot.
      Your encouragement means much. Thx again.

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